If last year felt almost normal, Steve Schoenfeld says this year’s Dominion Energy Charity Classic is as close to back to normal as it gets.
The PGA Tour Champions event returns to Richmond for its seventh year next week at Country Club of Virginia’ James River Course, bringing with it golf legends and the chance for Richmonders to roam CCV without a membership.
Gone are the days of 2020 when the pandemic prevented crowds from attending the tournament and hurt sponsorship sales, and the COVID variants that lingered in 2021 are out of the picture this year.
“It’s kind of the most normal since 2019,” Schoenfeld, the event’s executive director, said this week. “And the market has responded in that same fashion.”
Corporate sponsor sales are up 10 percent, as is expected attendance, Schoenfeld said. And revenue for the event will eclipse $8 million this year, with all leftover profits going to charity. The tournament has raised $7.3 million for charity to-date.
The pandemic’s dissipation has allowed for the return of the DECC’s executive women’s event, which it hasn’t held since 2019. It’s being held Monday and is sold out, Schoenfeld said.
Then there’s the newly created River City Collegiate Classic, which will feature seven HBCU college teams including Virginia Union University and Virginia State University. That three-day tournament will tee off Sunday, Oct. 23 at Belmont Golf Course, then at CCV on Monday after the DECC’s conclusion, then back at Belmont on Tuesday for its final round.
Even volunteerism is feeling a boost, with more than 1,000 volunteers signing on to work the DECC over its one-week run at CCV. That’s in a time when many companies in many industries are having trouble getting paid employees to apply and stick around.
“They pay us to volunteer,” Schoenfeld said, referring to the fact that DECC volunteers pay $85 to help subsidize the cost of their uniforms, tickets and food provided to them during the week.
“People are either willing to do it because they like the game or the charitable aspect. There’s a lot of community spirit here,” Schoenfeld said. “I’ve been in markets where we’re scratching and clawing to get enough volunteers.”
Another difference from the last two years is the absence of Phil Mickelson, a marquee name who is out of this year’s field after being suspended by the PGA for aligning with rival tour LIV Golf.
Schoenfeld admits that Mickelson was obviously a marketable figure, especially given the fact that he won the DECC in his first year playing it 2020 and returned as the headliner in 2021.
“When Phil won our event in 2020 and came back to defend last year that was a big deal to us,” Schoenfeld said.
The rift between LIV and the PGA has been widely publicized and has led to legal disputes, with Mickelson as one of the faces of the controversy.
Schoenfeld said the topic is certainly of interest but it’s not casting a shadow over this year’s event.
“Does it come up in my-day-to-day conversations? Sure. Does it affect our event in a big way? No, it doesn’t,” he said.
It’s helped by the fact that plenty of big names are still in the field.
Bernhard Langer, who won the event in 2017 and 2021, is back, as is Scott McCarron, who won the event’s debut in 2016.
Tour money leader Steven Alker is in the field and Schoenfeld said Alker has an interesting story.
“He’s a journeyman who never had much success (on the main PGA Tour) but turned 50 and he’s been killing it.” Players must be 50 to play on Tour Champions, which was formerly known as the Senior PGA.
And there’s new, familiar names playing the DECC for the first time this year. Padraig Harrington turned 50 last year and will be in the field, as will 51-year-old Stuart Appleby.
“Everybody knows we’re going to have a stellar field,” Schoenfeld said.
Players arrive to CCV Monday and start practice rounds. They then do player clinics with sponsors on Tuesday, followed by the pro-am pairing party that evening. Wednesday and Thursday is reserved for the pro-am, one of the event’s main money drivers for sponsorships.
The pro-am and the hospitality tents on the 16th and 18th holes account for 85 percent of the event’s revenue, Schoenfeld said.
The tournament’s premier sponsors — Markel, Riverstone Group, Dominion Energy, VCU Health, McGuireWoods and Henrico EDA — get the tony boxes overlooking the 18th.
The main tournament runs Friday-Sunday.
The DECC is part of the Tour Champions playoffs, leading up to the Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix next month.
Going into the DECC, the tour’s rankings are led by Steven Alker, with three victories and $2.7 million in winnings this year. Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly and Miguel Angel Jimenez round out the top five.